Most of the time, I talk about focus as a standalone skill, and deliberately avoid talking about what you should focus on – even though that is often more important.

There are several reasons for this, the main one being that I want to be as useful to as many people as I can.

I’d like to think I could help other data scientists be better data scientists, but I have no idea how to help artists be better artists or biologists do better biology.

Focus, however, is a close to a universal ingredient for success as there is, so I’m all in on being the best resources there is on that very specific and yet very generally-applicable set of skills.

That being said, there are a few general and helpful things that can be said about the other half of the problem.

This is particularly relevant to students and people starting their careers, but is useful to others as well.

All else being equal, emphasize the thing in which being good enough is sufficient to do well.

I’m told that artists and musicians have to be very skilled to do well financially, and even than many of the very skilled never do. On the other hand, even mediocre engineers usually do pretty well.

It’s commendable to want to try what you’re made of in a competitive field, but if you’re not in heart and soul, it’s a risk that often isn’t worth it.

I’m also told that many such endeavors are easier to truly enjoy when you’ don’t have to rely on them to pay the bills.

Emphasize improving your strengths rather than fixing your weaknesses

Now, the exception to this is if your weakness is really holding you back. If you want to be a professor, you don’t have to be an amazing public speaker but if you’re not at least decent, things will be hard for you.

Similarly, if you’re great at all parts of running a business but are terrible at accounting, you’re headed for trouble.

In these cases, shore up those weaknesses before they sabotage you.

Otherwise, emphasize what you’re good at rather than spending all of your time fixing weaknesses or trying to be well-rounded.

Emphasize things that you find easy that most people find hard

Provided those things are compensated, this is the place to be, as you won’t have a lot of competition driving down pay and making you more interchangeable.

Favor the near and concrete over the distant and abstract

For any field, you can always find someone who is successful. However, if that path to success isn’t clear, or obviously involves a whole lot of luck, you should be worried, especially if it tends to take a long time.

Some careers feature a very clear and linear progression with frequent milestones. Actuaries are probably the best example of this.

Some careers, like acting, have much less of a clear structure for progressing. These will be higher stress and much higher risk for most people.

I emphasize that I’m speaking to those who have multiple plausible options and are undecided between them. If you’re dead set of a particular path, I’m not writing to convince you to change it.

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